(Republished with permission from the diocese of Frederiction eNews)
Last winter when Camp Medley director Maren McLean-Persaud began to develop the Camp On The Road summer program, she had three aims: bring a unique ministry program to parishes; bring camp to kids who may not be able to go to camp; and give the teenaged leaders-in-training (LITs) and staff a unique, hands-on learning experience outside of camp.
Camp On The Road has completed its first week, and she is happy to report the objectives have been met.
“The growth I’ve seen in them alone is amazing,” she said of the LITs. “Every night I see something different in them.”
The program trains prospective camp counsellors, then sends them out to operate vacation bible school to apply the skills they’ve learned at camp. There are two groups of LITs at camp this summer.
During the week of July 11-15, two LIT directors and four LITs visited the Parish of Gagetown. For four days, they operated a vacation bible school for 22 local children aged 6-12, with the help of a dozen parish volunteers.
Maren chose the Parish of Gagetown for two reasons: it’s closest to the camp, allowing the staff to return there each evening to debrief and sleep. And her husband, the Rev. Christian Persaud, is the deacon-in-charge there.
Both were in and out all week, making sure this pilot project was going smoothly, but they need not have worried.
“The young people came and helped us set up, and the kids have really responded to them,” said Margie Cruickshank, the local VBS co-ordinator. “It’s been a great team. We’re so happy to have them! God has blessed us in so many ways.”
“It’s been going very well and the energy is high,” said LIT director Allyson Caldwell.
“This has exceeded my expectations. I was nervous the first day and the LITs were nervous, but they’ve really stepped up.”
This is the eighth year that Margie and others in the parish have operated a VBS. The need became apparent after they did community visits in 2007 and found the common response was there weren’t enough activities for children in the rural community.
The parish believes this community outreach is vital for area children.
“They certainly relate to the love of God,” she said. “It’s been a real blessing to the community. We’re helping to plant seeds and see them grow.”
As with many parishes, most of the volunteers are older, so the addition of several young people to lead the activities has been welcome, said Margie.
At the River Road Lions Club in Upper Gagetown, the parish team took care of the snacks and the facilities, while the camp team led the mud painting, tree planting, science experiments, tie dying and the sports.
Each day they closed the session with an indoor campfire, complete with a bucket of red and orange tissue paper to simulate a fire, and sang their campfire songs.
There is a good reason for all the songs, activities and the campfire – it helps nurture a desire to attend real camp as the children get older.
“Most of the kids who go through VBS usually go to Camp Medley, and a lot go through on our program,” said Margie.
Their program is the Betty Hamilton Scholarship Fund, which, in recent years, has sent 75 kids to camp.
“This place and Camp Medley might be the only places they hear about Jesus,” said Margie. “This is the avenue by which you reach lives.”
Christian agrees with Margie, saying, “Some of the kids have relatives in the parish, but a lot of them have no church affiliation.”
On the last day, the parish-camp team, children, parents and grandparents gathered for a barbecue and short ceremony, with each child receiving a Bible, courtesy of Canon Bill MacMullin and the Canadian Bible Society, and a card with a photo of themselves taken during VBS, as a reminder of their week.
The Camp On The Road team included LIT director Allyson Caldwell and assistant director Kyle McGraw, and LITs Louanna Webb, Michelle Cheverie, Cameron Hoyt and Chris Setchell.
The second and final Camp On The Road for 2016, with a new group of LITs, took place at Christ Church (Parish) Church in Fredericton Aug. 2-5. It partnered with St. Margaret’s, which ran a successful VBS last year.
One of the parish organizers, Nancy Robinson, was pleased with how the week went, adding there were 18 kids in attendance.
And the new group of LITs were demonstrating their talents, skills and training with the kids. They included Caitlin Mason, Adam Young, Emily Miflin, Robinson Cassidy Matthew Pittman and Keenan Chandler.
“They’re doing very well,” said Allyson. “The two groups [of LITs] are totally different – different personalities, different skills – but it’s been really good.”
With the LIT pilot project going so well this summer, Maren hopes for an expansion of the program next year, with more LITs and more parishes partnering with them to offer a VBS program. She also hopes that will include parishes that are farther away from Camp Medley.